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Tory survival tactics

Brian Taylor | 18:25 UK time, Monday, 28 May 2007

By George, they've got it! The Tories, that is. They have utterly absorbed the concept of minority government - and how to work the system.

For evidence, see their proposed crackdown on sex offenders. It involves closer monitoring of such individuals. Nothing exceptional about that: it featured prominently in their election manifesto.

The neat touch, however, is to sell the policy as a potential deal with the new SNP Scottish Executive. That prospect was cleverly spun over the weekend. (Nice one, Ramsay.)

The SNP executive has shown interest in pursuing this issue. Smart move on their part. Their very survival depends on such negotiated deals. More to the point, if they want to do anything with power - and they do - then such accommodations will become part of the landscape.

Alex Salmond's calculation will be: deliver a concession to an opposition party (as long as it doesn't cause you political pain) - and trust that they're equally pliant when SNP ministers want to do something in the future.

So why are the Tories to the smiling fore in this regard by contrast with the grim faces on the Labour and Liberal Democrats? Several reasons.

Firstly, the Tories haven't lost power - and had no expectation of gaining power. Their only contribution has been and is to work the system from the opposition benches. Secondly, the Tories' long term strategy is to rebuild acceptance as a mainstream party in the Scottish body politic.

Remember their 50 year decline from the peak of 1955. Remember that they had a (relatively) poor election, slipping back a seat in net terms. They need to be seen as players, not observers.

Thirdly, the other parties still harbour hopes of bringing down the SNP executive. They're not yet in a place, mentally, where they can work consistently with Alex and his gang.

PS: There's another structural element. The (very) long term logic of the Conservative position is to argue for maximum devolution to Scotland - or even quasi-independence.

That is because the Tory proposition will only truly thrive when they have the scope to offer tax cuts and a vibrant free-market approach. For that, they need fiscal autonomy or something close to it. Smart Tories know that. For now - and for the immediate future - such an approach clashes with their Unionist credentials.

Maybe someone else will have to do it for them. Remember that they survived as a party because of devolution - which they reviled - and proportional voting, which they opposed.


  • 1.
  • At 08:16 PM on 28 May 2007,
  • Clamjamfrie wrote:

Well Brian I agree with you completely regarding the Tories. They have been nimble footed and intelligent in their response to the election. They are already giving the impression they had a good election and are maximising their influence.

However, I think you are being a little over-generous regarding the Lib Dems, and New Labour. If a week is a long time in politics, having three weeks to come to terms with an election should be more than enough to construct a clear and effective response. They have not in my judgment. Not liking the result is one thing, allowing it to paralise you is quite another.

How the wider public is viewing matters post election is difficult to tell, but as for me, I think the SNP and Tories have further enhanced their reputations thus far, while New Labour and the Lib Dems have done further harm to themselves. In a funny sort of way, its as if New Labour and the Lib Dems are still in a coalition together, this time a coalition of the inarticulate and clumsy.

  • 2.
  • At 08:17 PM on 28 May 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Yes, understandable moves by both the Conservatives and the SNP; if the Conservatives move or second another policy Labour will appear isolated or more worrying for them the electorate may view their actions as either non participant in Scottish politics or they are acting like spoiled children.

While it is understandable that the current incumbents of the UK establishment will be feeling a bit miffed with the Scottish election outcomes, I did not think that they would be foolish enough to leave themselves exposed to accusations of treating Scotland and the Scottish people with disdain; hold on a minute yes I do, at least those who are in power for the next six or so weeks. Let us hope those chosen for Labour’s phase two of their third term of Government office see things more sensibly.

The fact that the Government has made no contact must be assessed as they could not care less for Scotland or its people; if Gordon Brown wishes to be re-elected to Westminster I would suggest he views his constituents somewhat differently as Jack McConnell did the Scottish electorate.
It would indeed be embarrassing for Gordon Brown if Labour was defeated at the next General Election, how much more embarrassing if there was to be a new MP elected to the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency?

Although ‘informal’ communications would be more adult, I can see why the First Minister would see the requirement to move communications onto a formal footing; once the First Minister writes the letter to Downing Street the ball will be in the court of the residents of Downing Street. If the Labour leadership, old or new, wish to continue the remarkable recruiting drive for the SNP which was started and run so successfully by Jack McConnell, they could do no better than to continue to ignore Scotland and pretend the Secretary of State for Scotland will placate the savages of the North of the Border; savages who are regularly described as welfare junkies by many English MPs, the English Media and those who post regularly in another place.

  • 3.
  • At 10:01 PM on 28 May 2007,
  • Brian McDonald wrote:

Good Strategy by the Tories even though I despise what they have done to our Country during the 80s and 90s, I have warmed to Annabel Goldie as a savvy Politician. It is interesting to see the Tories move away from their previous position against Devolution to the poster boys of Devolution even to stage for campaigning for greater fiscal autonomy.

I just wonder what the Lib Dems are up to, the Party is a great supporter of PR they must have realised that a election could have brought a minority Government situation. You think they would have acted constructively in the new Scottish Politics.

I wonder what your thoughts are about the make up of the Holyrood Committees?
Do you think that in these days of new consensus politics that deals will be made and broke between parties at the Committee level?

  • 4.
  • At 06:22 AM on 29 May 2007,
  • sven wrote:

In other words, you are saying that independence is inevitable.

Over the last 30 years, the SNP have made a political about turn and instead of being of conservative inclination, they are now left wing. The Scottish Conservatives see that they would be in much better position to argue for their own policies in the context of an independent Scotland.

Since Alex Salmond seems to be showing (so far) immeasurably better aptitude as a first minister than Jack McConnel ever did, we should expect labour to become an irrelevance, the SNP to become the main left wing voice.

The Tories are still the main contenders to become the main right wing party. But to do so, they show greater aptitude than they have done over the last 50 years, and that is a very big if. Under the scenario that you describe, therefore, both the main left and main right parties will believe that independence is in Scotland's best interests.

(Having said that, the Tories may have shown a small indication of political skill in the last week, but basically they lost Scotland through their own ineptitude. They can't blame everything on Thatcher; they are in a bad position precisely because they showed themselves to be a bunch of amateurs.)

But then, even if independence arrives, so what? In previous generations, national identity actually had significant practical implications, much more than it does today. Nowadays, it is very unlikely that the King is going to order his subjects to take up arms, for example. The powers of government are (at least in principle) strictly limited. The practical consequences of national identity become increasingly irrelevant, except in some touchy feely way engendered by Hollywood movies.

The role of parliament is simply to ensure that some basic machinery is working; education, health, roads. Important though these items may be, they aren't really a major cause for flag waving.

I've been told (by someone who should know) that although the Scottish Conservative party remains completely opposed to forming any coalition, they will do everything they can to support the SNP as a minority administration. I thought at the time that it was a very enlightened attitude, and I still do, but I've since realised it's also quite canny, in that it places the two 'L' parties firmly in the cold as 'opposition'.

It just gets better and better.

  • 6.
  • At 04:29 PM on 01 Jun 2007,
  • Angus McIonnach wrote:

It makes sense that Salmond would want to rehabilitate the Tories, as given the right policies, they are the natural home for many folk who currently vote Labour. If this 'New Labour' end of the Labour vote can be stripped off, the SNP is closer to being the party of the left in Scottish politics.
With the SNP as a non-scary, left-of-centre party with a proven track record in government (what happened to the plague of locusts?) standing up for Scottish interests, the Labour party could become much less relevant.

Correspondingly, the SNP's positive noises to the Greens are intended to have the same kind of effect on the Lib Dems.

No doubt this Machiavellian analysis is mostly wishful thinking on my part.

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